[“Raphaela Smashes” was the first short story I wrote for my creative writing class. It was about a teenage girl who hates high school except for an art class where all she does is sculpt clay angels. A few angsty excerpts:
I used to be so much more tolerant of this place—no, that’s wrong. It was never the place, always the people. I can’t see how I’ll be able to conform to their blueprint of an average, non-interfering girl anymore. Molding myself into their empty smiles has taken its toll and my tolerance of them has gone dry, leaving me raw and bracing myself for their sharp neglect. I wonder if maybe I was better off sugar-coated.
* * * * *
I haven’t decided which version of me to be this year. I think I have outgrown all of my old masks, the nice, pretty ones. The silent, claustrophobic ones. Maybe I can dig a new one out of the gutter.
* * * * *
I’m alone up here. I don’t cry, it just makes the hole deeper (and it’s already becoming hard to crawl out of). I practice breathing, doing it normally has been giving me trouble lately. I’ve been feeling like something invisible is trying to strangle me, some thought or emotion lodged in my trachea.]
10/4/94“You didn’t hurt me Nothing can hurt me You didn’t hurt me Nothing can stop me now” – nine inch nails
We discussed Raphaela Smashes in class today and I was incredibly happy with how much people liked it. I don’t think cut adrift… is going to be as well received. I haven’t decided how I feel about it yet. I’ve read it over a lot, but I don’t know what I’d change about it.
Oh well, I should focus more on my next story. I really want to call it My Empire of Dirt and am almost ready to construct an entire story on that title. I want it to be about little girls. Around 9 years old.
I was really touched (and a little surprised) with how many people identified with my first story. It was really nice, felt good.“And in our world a heart of darkness A firezone Where poets speak their hearts then bleed for it.” – U2
So much for holding back my feelings. My fiction was rife with them, brimming with enough teen anguish for a dozen Angela Chases and Brian Krakows.
This short story was published in a literary journal at the end of the year, which was a point of pride for me, because I was approached to submit a piece by someone who had shared the writing class with me.
Funny that I couldn’t believe that my classmates were able to identify with the alienation I portrayed in this story (a theme that would appear over and over and over in my writing). It’s hard to imagine others feeling that sort of isolation, especially in a school full of bright, accomplished kids. And yet so many of had our own personal cocktails of misery brewing within us, blind to the fact that we were all going through variations of the same thing.
It terms of inspiration, I wore my influences on my sleeve. Raphaela was the main character in Faraway, So Close! the sequel to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. I suppose I was going through a bit of of an obsession with arty movies about angels (who hasn’t, right?… right?…). I knew I’d never top Wenders’ interpretation of celestial beings, but I tried to work in some kind of homage anyway.
Music continued to be the biggest inspiration, though. “Cut adrift” was short for “cut adrift but still floating” (a U2 lyric) but I decided to change “my empire of dirt” (a nine inch nails lyric) to “Happiness in Slavery” (a nine inch nails song title). Nowadays, whenever I see a book or movie title based on a song, my first temptation is to get irked at the lack of originality, but then I have to remind myself I used to do the same thing, and it was more about paying tribute than anything else.
One upside to having a journal where I didn’t gush about my feelings as much was having fewer entries devoted to boys. Mind you, the crushes were undoubtedly still there, but putting my passion into music and writing seemed like a better outlet than unrequited love, and more fun to reminisce about years later.
“I send a heart to all my dearies and when your life is oh so dreary DREAM” — Smashing Pumpkins
I think I saw the worst movie ever made last night. It was “Boxing Helena” and awful isn’t severe enough to convey how truly bad it was. I don’t even know why I’m writing about movies so much. I’m more into music anyway. I listened to the Nine Inch Nails bootleg Claudia taped for me. It was a great concert. I still want to know where the song “Keep Calling Me” is from. My short story is progressing. I hope I’ll be able to continue writing on demand.
I’m afraid this long may be boring because at the moment I am refusing to put down anything personal. I’m not going to pour out my emotions here, the closest I will come to that is with my choice of quotes.
My trip to Ireland is less than one year and 10 months away. I hope they don’t paint over the grafitti at Windmill Lane Studios by the time I get there.“Nothing much to say I guess Just the same as all the rest…” – U2
We were encouraged to be prolific in creative writing, and had to write half a page a day in our journals. I was still resistant to keeping a proper diary wherein I’d pour my heart out, so I filled the red notebook with song lyrics and pop culture minutiae.
I wasn’t going to say much about Boxing Helena, focusing more on my burgeoning nine inch nails obsession, but in a way the two compliment each other. Jennifer Lynch’s dreadful film is a good example of how the macabre can be turned into something trite and poorly executed, whereas Trent Reznor took the macabre and turned into something compelling and beautiful.
It’s funny how much controversy surrounded Boxing Helena and how forgotten the movie has now become. There was so much buzz about the movie leading up to its release. It was the first feature from David Lynch’s daughter, so of course everyone wondered if she’d follow in his genius weirdo footsteps. Then there was the plot of the film, in which a crazy-possessive (emphasis on the crazy) amputates the arms and legs of a woman he’s obsessed with. And then there was all the buzz about the female lead: Madonna dropped out of the title role, and then Kim Basinger dropped out and got sued for breach of contract (and initially lost, filing for bankruptcy). This made for some juicy Entertainment Weekly fodder, let me tell you. Finally Sherilyn Fenn got cast as the lead, which was unfortunate because she went from being a bombshell on Twin Peaks to flat out bombing in Boxing Helena. All the drama surrounding the movie was way better than what was actually shot on film, which was a mess of bad writing and boring storytelling. It’s it’s gotta take a lot of work to make a movie full of sex about amputation boring and yet… Considering Basinger went on to win an Oscar and Fenn went on to star in The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, it was probably worth the bankruptcy to opt out of such a disastrous career move.
And then we have creepy done right. Here’s the thing about me and Nine Inch Nails: I hated the music. I never went in for that scream-y type of singing, except maybe when Bono’s voice cracked once in a while. I used to turn off or cringe through “Head Like a Hole” and “Wish” when played on the alternative radio station (WDRE, oh how I miss you). Then “Closer,” the first single off The Downward Spiral, was released. And I didn’t like it. And I found the video disturbing. And I mysteriously found myself going out and getting the album anyway (on cassette no less).
I remember hearing the first sharp thuds of the opening track, “Mr. Self-Destruct,” and getting a feeling of being on a roller coaster, climbing up, up, up, and then being plunged into a noisy abyss. I never experienced music like that before, a sound that shook something inside me.
My fascination with Trent Reznor and his music quickly snowballed. I bought all the albums and every magazine he was featured in. Whenever the “Closer” video came on MTV (which was often), I stopped what I was doing, utterly mesmerized by the gruesome imagery, the impassioned lyrics, and the torment Trent exuded. There was so much anger, melancholia, and sex wrapped up in Nine Inch Nails. This was an intoxicating and revelatory combination for my 16-year-old self.
It wouldn’t be long before I figured out “Keep Calling Me” on that bootleg was actually “Dead Souls,” a Joy Division cover from the soundtrack for The Crow. By that point, I was mainlining every Nine Inch Nails album, b-side, interview, video, and random tidbit I could get my hands on. By the end of the year, my bedroom door was plastered with pictures of Trent Reznor. My father grew concerned that I was listening to music that “sounds like a factory” and wondered if I was becoming a Satanist. Hardly. But I was exploring a new channel for my inner turmoil and obsessive tendencies.
[Red Spiral Notebook with the following band logos drawn on the front:
U2, Bauhaus, PWEI, NIN, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death]
September 13, 1994
“Into the flood again…” – Alice in Chains
I’m back in school and just as I decided I would no longer continue my diary, we have to keep a log for creative writing. Great. Well at least this is my free space to do what I wish. Went to Anita’s on Sunday and watched “Faraway, So Close!” (the same name as my fanzine. Though the movie and song came first). What a great movie. I wanted to pause it every other minute to write down what they were saying. I still think I like the “prequel” “Wings of Desire” better. It was more…philosophical.
I’m eagerly awaiting my next trip to the village, don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go. I want to get some more written material on U2 for my ever-expanding collection. Got an idea spinning around my head for that short story due Friday. Think it’s pretty good. We’ll see.
“Wish there was something real in this world full of you.” – nine inch nails
Funny, because as much as I grumbled about it at the time, the red spiral notebook I kept as a journal during my junior year of high school ended up being one of the most comprehensive records I have of any period of my life. Yes, it’s full of frivolity and quotes and stream of consciousness entries written for the sake of completing the minimum number of entries required by the class, but it’s also a personal time capsule that chronicles a pretty pivotal time in my life, when I was discovering not only music and movies and other sources of inspiration, but also developing what would be one of my greatest passions in life: writing. The creative writing course I was lucky enough to be in that year is the single most amazing class I took in all of my high school (and even college) years. It not only gave me an outlet of expression for all my turbulent adolescent thoughts and feelings, but it made me want to be a storyteller, to put down words and refine them and share them.
What made the class so stellar was our teacher, Ms. Donaldson. She not only offered the perfect balance of freedom and guidance with respect to our writing, she was also incredibly insightful and damn cool. Ms. Donaldson resembled Jodie Foster, had multiple ear piercings, and rode a motorcycle. She shared hilarious stories from her younger days (“did I ever tell you about the flaming diaphragm?”) and created an atmosphere in her classroom that was nothing short of illuminating. And it wasn’t just me. I recently met up with a couple of classmates who had the same reverence for Ms. Donaldson that I did.
“We all had a girl crush on her,” one said. “That class was magic.”
Despite the different shades of teen angst I’d continue to experience at 16, it was an inspiring time. That summer, I saw Wings of Desire, a movie I loved so much I made my best friend Anita watch it with me the very next day. The Wim Wenders masterpiece instantly became my favorite film, and still is to this day. The story of angels watching over the people of Berlin circa the late 80’s, shot in black and white, sepia, and color, in several languages, was unlike any film I had seen before or since. If a movie can be a muse, then this would be mine for a long long time. In college, I saw it in revival houses several times, once with an orchestra providing a live soundtrack. It is the only movie I have ever purchased on DVD. I would tell people it’s the closest thing I have to religion.
That summer I also discovered Greenwich Village, which was already starting to get gentrified, but at the time still retained much of its bohemian charm and was filled with tiny record stores/memorabilia shops that Anita and I frequented. The East Village in particular still had an alternative grit to it, since starving artists/musicians could still afford to live there. The Village became a Mecca for me, where I could satisfy existing musical obsessions and cultivate new ones, where I could ogle the outrageous hairstyles, piercings, and outfits that would inform my future style, and where I could escape the blandness of my Brooklyn life.
Something else that helped me escape that blandness was in fact a new musical obsession. But that’s a whole other story, for another time…
Saturday, November 27, 1993
We went to Connecticut for Thanksgiving, but not to my cousin Jenna’s house. We visited The Weinstein’s, the people we met on the cruise. Melanie wasn’t there because she’s in France for the year but Jack came home from boarding school. At first I was a little uncomfortable because I hadn’t seen him in like four months and because I was used to having Melanie around, but that didn’t last long.
We went down to the basement to watch t.v. and only came up for hors d’ouerves and champagne which we each had three glasses of (I didn’t get drunk but I got a little lightheaded which felt great). Jack was sitting on the loveseat (I was on the couch) and he was kind of far away from me. We were watching “Benny and Joon” when Melanie called. I told Jack I wanted to talk to her so I went over and sat down next to him so I could grab the receiver (plus I did want to sit next to him). He had his arm on the back of the couch and when I started talking to Melanie he put his arm around me!
Wait, it gets better!
After he hung up we were watching the movie and I was resting my head on his chest. He kept looking down at me and once he even said something like “I’d kiss you, but I’m really involved with the movie.” Of course after that I could care less what Benny and Joon were up to.
Eventually he did kiss me and it was really nice. At one point he put his hand up to my face which I thought was the sweetest thing (I always wanted a guy to do that). He had a really warm face and neck and smelled good (though I can’t explain how).
The rest of the afternoon we made out, trying not to get caught (we didn’t). After dinner we went for a walk by ourselves. It was really dark and cold out and there were a lot of stars shining (which one doesn’t see many of living in smog-filled New York).
Jack led us to this grassy area near a University where we made out on a hill under the stars. I swear it’s true.
The next day I had to leave so we exchanged addresses and I gave him my picture. He is going to be able to come to my birthday party in 3 weeks. I miss him already.
Jack never responded to the one letter I wrote him and never made it to my birthday party.
I think I his parents mentioned something to my parents about him having a girlfriend. So much the better that we weren’t caught smooching. However short-lived it was, it was the first proper kissing I experienced since the previous spring. It was pretty great to lock lips with an attractive, nice-smelling boy who in retrospect I realize bore a striking resemblance to a gawkier Donnie Darko-era Jake Gyllenhaal.
There’s nothing quite like that nervous anticipation before the kissing begins, and doing it in secret made it just about the most thrilling boy encounter I had experienced up to that point. The champagne, the basement, the starlit walk later on, the stolen kisses the following morning… It was certainly the highlight of my fifteeth year, regardless of the silence that followed.
To this day, I haven’t seen Benny and Joon all the way through.
About a week ago we had a notetaking class and Mitchell sat behind me and kept fluffing and sort of tugging lightly on my hair.
At the end of class I turned around and say “What? Why were you pulling my hair and he answers “I don’t know it just felt good.” I was floating on air!
Then just friday we were in line to go to science class and I feel someone fluff my hair. I turn around and guess who I see? Yup! Mitchell! He waves and I smile back.* I hope that he will ask me out tomorrow.
The good news is, Mitchell did ask me out, though oddly there was no diary entry summing up the second date. We went to the movies again, though this time we had the good sense to keep it a secret from our classmates.
The bad news is, the movie we chose was terrible: Loose Cannons. Remember that cinematic offering starring Gene Hackman as a weary cop, Dan Aykroyd as his unconventional partner who has a split personality disorder, and Dom DeLuis as some portly dude thrown in for extra so-called comic relief? No? Well consider yourself very very lucky. I considered it the worst movies I ever saw until the day I saw Johnny Mnemonic.
Mitchell and I pretended we liked the movie, and our strained conversation afterwards had us scraping for good things to say about it, like praising Aykroyd’s “zany” multiple personality-filled acting.
Mitch walked me home just like last time and the other bad news is he did not kiss me (just like last time). No hair fluffing, nothing. Maybe the horrendous movie killed the mood?
I was not floating on air after this date.
[*The other good news is that I got better about not mixing up my tenses.]
For some reason, despite keeping up with regular entries to the composition book journal, I still wrote in the Hello Kitty diary from time to time. It had three sections of pages: pink, then yellow, then blue. I think the completist in me was determined not to waste paper and make it to the blue pages, though I never even made it out of the pink ones. I ended up mostly sticking with the composition book, but these rare entries show a snapshot of where I was at the time with less filler (despite the repetition of content). A prime example:
I don’t like Charles anymore (he’s a pain in the !?!?!?) but I am madly in love with George. But the good thing is I think he also likes me! I hope he asks me out and that my parents will let me go out with him.
I still love Jonas and a lot!!! But I know it’s impossible for anything to happen with us, but me and George have a chance to get something started.
Me and Marcela (the bitch) are not friends anymore because she walked out on my birthday party which went even better without her.
-Bye- (4 now)
The last time I mentioned George was back in November, 1989, when he started to tell me something that I suspected was a confession of love (or at the very least, strong like). Despite rarely mentioning him in the other journal, I evidently still carried this torch for my opponent to the vice presidential race of our elementary school. What baffles me today is how I interpreted his ambivalence back then as reciprocated interest. Good thing you can cut an eleven-year-old some slack for being clueless in matters of dating (as for later years…well, we have plenty of time before we get to those comedies/tragedies of errors).
And Jonas. Oy, again with the cute third grade hall monitor. I’m awed and embarrassed at how many entries there are in both diaries devoted to Jonas, years after he graduated and long after I randomly saw him at the movies. (I’m also editing a lot of them out of this blog… you’re welcome). At the very least, I was aware of the futility of any relationship. It’s kinda difficult to “get something started” when you never see the person you allegedly love “and a lot.”
I know it seems like I throw around the word “love” a lot in my diaries, and I do, but let’s review a list of some of the other people I “loved” at the time (parents notwithstanding): Debbie Gibson, Corey Haim, Cyndi Lauper, Stacy Q, Blair from The Facts of Life, and Madison the mermaid (as portrayed by Daryl Hannah in Splash). Need I say more?
A few days ago I saw the movie Beaches with Rose and it was the best. My favorite movies are: Flowers in the Attic, Beaches, Big and License to Drive.
[Written in the margin:] I ♥ COREY Haim
How I wish I made a list of favorite movies like this every year while growing up. And books, at the top of which would have also been Flowers in the Attic (even though it was adapted into a sub-par movie, I still enjoyed it).
Reading V.C. Andrews novels was a rite of passage for young girls in the 1980’s (and maybe beyond?). The first time I came across these books I was nine and overheard a couple of girls talking about the plot of one of the sequels to Flowers in the Attic– either Petals on the Wind or If There be Thorns (gotta love the melodramatic garden-themed titles). When I expressed curiosity about the story, they said I was too young for those books. Which of course led me to seek out all of Andrews’ novels during my next library visit.
The books of V.C. Andrews have a haunting charm but also a creepiness in their themes. There’s usually a rags-to-riches story chock full of dark family secrets (rape, torture, murder, you name it). Then there is often some incest thrown in for good measure. Sometimes it’s unintentional, like cousins falling in love who don’t realize they’re related until one of the aforementioned family secrets is exposed. Sometimes it’s a flat out we’re-related-but-I-have-the-hots-for-you-anyway thing.
All the sex, murder, and mayhem chronicled in these books was probably not appropriate for young girls, and yet I can’t think of anyone who read the novels beyond their early teens. Flowers in the Attic is something of a coming-of-age guilty pleasure classic. The plot revolves around four siblings who are hidden away in their wealthy grandmother’s enormous attic for several years. There’s something fascinating and oddly romantic about their imprisonment, the way they cope with being locked up, and (spoiler alert) the way they ultimately escape. I always wanted to play around in an attic full of trunks containing old clothes and other antique accouterments (though not as much as I wanted to be a Goonie and hunt for buried treasure).
As for Corey Haim, what can I say… the eleven-year-old heart wants what it wants. After being thoroughly charmed by the him in The Lost Boys and License to Drive I developed a massive crush on the young actor. While his wise-cracking best friend Corey Feldman was arguably funnier, I found his habit of dressing like Michael Jackson bizarre and did not find him cute at all. My heart belonged to one Corey only and his name was Haim. This childhood obsession devotion led me to wallpaper a wall of my room with dozens of pictures of the teen heart-throb with carefully-torn pages from Tiger Beat, Bop, and other magazines dedicated to the worship of pretty young pop culture icons.
One of the things I loved best about Corey was his penchant for changing hair colors (a habit I would pick up within the next few years). In one photo he might have gelled back brown hair; in another he’d be edgier with black spiky hair; in yet another picture the hair would be red and artfully coiffed. The colors changed but the presence of copious amounts of hair product was a common thread. As we know, in the 198o’s cool hair equaled BIG hair, and Haim’s tresses defied gravity with the best of them. Oh, and his acting wasn’t bad either.
It wouldn’t be long before rumors of Corey Haim’s drug use started floating around. I wrote him a fan letter telling him that I was concerned about these rumors, and that my love would help him through any dark days, but he either did not read my letter or chose to ignore it. In later years, his addiction would lead to him selling his hair and teeth on eBay which I frankly still can’t bear to think about.
Instead, let’s focus on early 1989, when my wall of Corey was still glossy and my innocence was being only mildly tarnished by reading books I shouldn’t have been reading. It was a simpler time, a happier time.